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Archive for January, 2013

Mo Yan’s “Big Breasts and Wide Hips”

Friday, January 18th, 2013
English: Mo Yan after giving a reading in Hamb...

English: Mo Yan after giving a reading in Hamburg, Germany. Deutsch: Mo Yan nach einer Lesung im Gymnasium Marienthal, Hamburg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I selected Mo Yan‘s “Big Breasts and Wide Hips” for my book group without first reading it. I had read his “Life and death are wearing me out” and a collection of short stories before. I very much enjoyed them and respected the author not only as a writer but also as a social critic. I was selfish in selecting a book I had not read.

Three weeks into the month, I found myself hardly going over a third of the book, despite shifting from English to Chinese and back again, for a change of flavor and style. I found the narrative jumpy, the stories sounded more like high metaphor or tall tales than reality, and the cruelty raw and hard to take. I pressed on since I felt responsible in leading the discussion. I got more into it when the narrative turned to contemporary China and could hardly put it down toward the last part.

Big Breasts & Wide Hips: A Novel - Mo Yan - Google BooksI still need more time to digest and put my thoughts together. I had very mixed feelings. On the one hand, the women in Shangguan’s family, from grandmother, mother, to the eight daughters, every one of them was strong in her own rights, and every one died horribly; and all the men in the family, from grandfather, father, to Jintong, were weak or never grew up, though there were heroic male characters such as Sima Ku and Bird Han, who all died tragically.

What’s most shocking to me is the presentation of each era, from the 1930s when Japan invaded China and brutally killed so many people, including those in the Shangguan family, a mere reflection of the time in China, the land reform, with all the excessive killings, the famine when so many people starved to death, the ridicule of faked crying about the bitter past (while life at the present was just as hard and bitter), the persecution during the Cultural Revolution, to the corruption of the newly rich and those in power, every era dark, and “mother”, a representative of ordinary people (resilient yet powerless), suffered through each and every one! The story hit me in the core, heavy and hard. I found it difficult to breathe and swallow sometimes, especially when I realize how much truth it presented!

The book is not easy to read, but definitely worth the time and effort. I look forward to my fellow book group members’ opinion this Sunday.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length award-winning film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. For more information, visit

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Ping Pong, directed by Hartford

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Les D'Arcy

Les D’Arcy

Have you ever seen anyone learning to play ping pong as therapy in a nursing home and then go on to play in the World Championship competition? Or a 100-year-old woman, arriving at a competition in a wheelchair and playing by stationing in one position, but hitting the ball back as far as her arm could reach? Or an elder man gasping for air but managing to win a medal in the men’s singles and championship in men’s doubles at the World Championship games?

Ping Pong, a documentary film directed by Hugh Hartford that I watched yesterday at the Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival, showed just that. The charming 80-minute film featured eight ping pong players aged 85 to 100 who participated in the World Championship ping pong competition held in Inner Mongolia, China.

Dorothy DeLow

Dorothy DeLow

Coming from all over the world, these senior players, among more than 2,000 participants at various age groups at the competition, showed their prowess and determination. They were competing for medals in the age group 80 and above. We followed them to their homes in different parts of the world and watched them proudly show off the medals of gold, silver or bronze that they had won in the past, some quite a few dozens. At this advanced age, however, their movements were hindered, breathing short, but their competitive spirits didn’t diminish and their love for the sports and life continued to soar.

“I want to die playing ping pong,” one of them said. “But not soon,” she quickly added.

The audience chuckled.

An avid ping pong player myself, I watched them play with determination. I was amazed and amused. A few times, I  found myself clapping my hands in the theatre as the people sitting around me smiled.

The film had a light touch, and many times, made the audience laugh. It showed more than being competitive at an old age—it is about living and loving, about winning medals in the passage of life.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.


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In the Shadow, directed by David Ondricek

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

shadow 1

One of the best films I saw at the Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival is In the Shadow, a production listed under Czech Republic, Ploland, Slovakia and Israel. It’s a story of a capable and honest cop investigating a jewelry heist in the dark days of Cold War. It was in an era when the Soviets was controlling Czechoslovakia. As the State Security took over the case, a group of Jews were framed to be the criminals, and nothing was what it appeared to be and no one could be trusted. It was a film noir, with superb performance and a very well constructed narrative.

shadow 2Director David Ondricek appeared at the screening for Q & A. He stated he was the last generation who lived through the socialist era under the control of the Soviets, though the story was set in a period before he was born. He webbed three stories his father related to him in the film. Together with a young and talented screenwriter, they worked on various versions, and in the end, came out with 17 screen scripts. Being a writer, I’m always interested in learning about other people’s creative process, and I was touched by their dedication.

One woman in the audience expressed regret for the ending of the film in which the good cop was tortured and murdered. “You just killed your franchise,” she said.

Ondricek answered with a smile. “That’s the difference between Americans and us,” he said. “We are not pragmatic.”

Dark as it is, I must say the realistic ending is very powerful. Besides, the last scene in which the good cop’s little boy picks up a plank to defend a helpless small boy when he was bullied by three bigger kids does leave hope that the battle against injustice will continue, no matter what the sacrifice.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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24th Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival honors stars and filmmakers

Monday, January 7th, 2013
Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren

I had the good fortune of attending the 24th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), partially to cover the event as a journalist, and partially to enjoy the films and meet with people in the industry.

The most glamorous event at PSIFF, among the top three largest in North America, is the star-filled, black-tie Award Gala held at the Convention Center on Sat. Jan. 6. More than 10 actors/actresses and filmmakers received recognition to the enthusiastic applauses of 2,000 people in the audience.

Director Ang Lee stepped first on to the stage to present the Frederick Loewe Award for Film Composing to Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”).

Lee said “Life of Pi” is “an adventure of motion picture” in which he wants to present a story that is both philosophical and complicated.

“When I didn’t know how to put the film together, I called Mychael,” Lee said. He praised Danna as a wonderful filmmaker and credited his simple yet profound music for “bringing life and soul to ‘Life of Pi’.”

Darryle Macdonald, Festival Director, called the Festival “a singular celebration of the cinema’s power to provoke, entertain and enthrall all those who open themselves up to new horizons and a journey beyond the comfortable confines of everyday experience.”

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper

Other recipients of honors at the gala include actor Richard Gere (“Arbitrage”) for Chairman’s Award, actress Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”) for Spotlight Award, director Robert Zemeckis (“Flight”) for Director of the Year Award, actress Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”) for Desert Palm Achievement Award, director Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”) for Sonny Bono Visionary Award, actress Helen Mirren, (“Hitchcock”) for International Star Award, actor Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”) for Desert Palm Achievement Award, actress Sally Field (“Lincoln”) for Career Achievement Award, and actors Ben Affleck (also director), Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston (“Argo”) for Ensemble Performance Awards.

Presenters of the awards were equally impressive in their own career achievements. Besides Lee, others include John Hawkes, Tom Holland, Tom Hanks, David O’Russell, Eddie Redmayne, Diane Lane, Tom Hooper, and Tony Mendez, who, different from the rest who are Hollywood stars or film directors, is the CIA officer who planned the rescue of six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980 that the film is based on.

“When I went in, I had the support of my colleagues in the CIA and our government,” Mendez said, “and the help of our friends in the Canadian government — not to mention some very creative people in the movie business who helped me carry out what became known as ‘The Hollywood Option.’”

Ang Lee

Ang Lee

“I never imagined that our ‘Hollywood Option’ would ultimately be optioned by Hollywood,” he continued.

PSIFF will screen 42 of the 71 foreign-language films submitted for Academy Awards. A total of 180 films from 68 countries have been selected, among them, 15 are from Asia, including Cheng Kaige’s “Caught in the Web”, Wendy J.N. Lee’s “Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey” (Executive producer: Michelle Yeoh), and Chang Jung-Chi’s “Touch of the Light”.

“I’m excited to be here,” said Cambodian director Chhay Bora whose film “Lost Loves” is shown at the Festival. “It’s so great to see such interest and support for film,” he continued.

To watch more about the red carpet arrivals and interviews, click the link below:

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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